It was another tabloid week for the Olympic movement. At the track-and-field trials in Sacramento, Calif., sprinters Michael Johnson and Maurice Green moved their gums as fast as their legs, trading insults at a record pace. On the human-interest front, there was Marla Runyan, legally blind, qualifying for the team at 1,500 m, and Gabe Harmony Jennings, a happy eccentric from Forks of Salmon, Calif., announcing himself as a miler to be reckoned with. Finally there was Magnificent Marion Jones qualifying for what seemed to be every event.
There was lots of crime news in the big type too. Over in Utah, a 15-count indictment was handed up against Salt Lake City bid-committee principals Tom Welch and Dave Johnson in connection with the $1.2 million in graft that preceded--led to?--Salt Lake's selection by the International Olympic Committee as host of the 2002 Winter Games. The feds went ballistic on Welch and Johnson because they wouldn't cop a plea to bribing I.O.C. members. The two say they're innocent because schmoozing members at the time wasn't against I.O.C. policy--it was I.O.C. policy.
The indictment in Salt Lake overshadowed other news from a Denver courtroom that may ultimately prove far more troublesome for the Olympics. In filing a wrongful-termination lawsuit, Dr. Wade Exum, director of the U.S.O.C.'s drug-control unit for nine years before he stepped down under pressure last month, charged among other things that his bosses systematically covered up illicit drug use. "In recent years, absolutely no sanction has been imposed on roughly half of all the American athletes who have treated positive for prohibited substances," Exum alleged. He said that his tests had turned up "scores" of athletes using strength-building testosterone but that no one had been punished. The U.S.O.C. said Exum's charges were hogwash.
Assuming the U.S.O.C. is correct, we might ask, in the interest of Olympic glory, "What do you mean, our guys aren't taking drugs?" Chemistry long ago supplanted Wheaties as the breakfast of champions among elite athletes. Recently an Olympic discus thrower from Australia, Werner Reiterer, who admitted to spending about $12,000 a year on steroids and human-growth hormones during his career, said a majority of Australian athletes used performance enhancers and were encouraged to do so by Olympic officials. In Cuba, track officials refused to suspend world record-holding high jumper Javier Sotomayor after he tested positive for cocaine, and Jamaican track officials reacted similarly after sprinter Merlene Ottey tested positive for steroids.